I hereby declare that the Detroit Red Wings must win Game 5 of the Western Conference finals tonight over Chicago.
No, I’m not on the league’s or the network’s payroll. Even though I would love to see a rematch of last year’s final, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin one year more mature and better prepared to lead their Pittsburgh Penguins into battle against the defending champs, that’s not the most important reason in my mind that we need to get a Penguins-Wings matchup and get it now.
If the Wings win tonight, all signs point to the Stanley Cup final opening Saturday in Motown. Should Chicago push the series beyond tonight, the final wouldn’t start until Friday, June. 5. That’s right, if Chicago wins tonight and loses Friday in Game 6, there would be a one-week layoff before the opening of the ultimate series. After what has been the most dramatic, exhilarating three series of playoff hockey in at least a decade, it could all halt with a thud while the NHL waits for its broadcast partners of doing it the honor of televising its games.
So, let’s all hope that the Wings continue to play with the poise that comes with their championship acumen, and that they’re Finns and Swedes continue to get along and forge one of the league’s premier powers. Let’s hope that Chicago goaltender Cristobal Huet can’t bounce back from his ugly Game 4 performance, and that the young Blackhawks just chalk up this series as a learning experience and start looking forward to returning bigger and better next season.
Because really, the momentum the league has finally built up is relying on a Detroit win. While the league still hasn’t officially said it will make the wise move and start the final Saturday if the Wings win, we’ll never know what would’ve happened if Chicago decides to waste our time by winning. Remember how nine-day layoffs affected the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks? Well, a week off would have a similar affect on the Wings and Pens (as we’ve seen in years past).
Unlike the NBA and NFL, the NHL does not have an ESPN footprint to keep it relevant during a one-week break in the playoffs. Ratings are up, people — even casual sports fans and media — are talking about hockey again (and in a gushing way). If you love the NHL, you love the drama of the best-of-seven series. But just this once, you have to root against drama and in favor of the Wings. The future success of the NHL could be relying on it.